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Tonga

Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean, about a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii. It lies south of Samoa and east of Fiji.

Archaeological evidence shows that the first settlers in Tonga sailed from the Santa Cruz Islands, as part of the original Austronesian-speakers' (Lapita) migration which originated out of S.E. Asia some 6000 years before present. Archaeological dating places Tonga as the oldest known site in Polynesia for the distinctive Lapita ceramic ware, at 2800-2750 years before present. The "Lapita" people lived and sailed, traded, warred, and intermarried in the islands now known as Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji for 1000 years, before more explorers set off to the east to discover the Marquesas, Tahiti, and eventually the rest of the Pacific Ocean islands. For this reason, Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji are described by anthropologists as the cradle of Polynesian culture and civilization.

By the 12th century, Tongans, and the Tongan paramount chief, the Tu'i Tonga, were known across the Pacific, from Niue to Tikopia, sparking some historians to refer to a 'Tongan Empire'. A network of interacting navigators, chiefs, and adventurers might be a better term. In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil war erupted. It was in this context that the first Europeans arrived, beginning with Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire in 1616 (when they shot a Tongan off a swift sailing vessel near Niuatoputapu), but most significantly including Captain Cook in 1773, 1774, and 1777, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Walter Lawrey in 1822.

Tonga was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845 by the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator Taufa'ahau. He held the chiefly title of Tu'i Kanokupolu, but was baptised with the name King George. In 1875, with the help of missionary Shirley Baker, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy, at which time he emancipated the 'serfs', enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of the press, and limited the power of the chiefs. Tonga became a British protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on 18 May 1900, when European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. The Treaty of Friendship and protected state status ended in 1970 under arrangements established prior to her death by the third monarch, Queen Salote. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970, and the United Nations in 1999. While exposed to colonial forces, Tonga has never lost indigenous governance, a fact that makes Tonga unique in the Pacific and gives Tongans much pride, as well as confidence in the monarchal system. The British High Commission in Tonga is scheduled to close in 2005.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Tonga".